By the outbreak of World War I, wireless technology had been in existence for several decades. In the late 19th century, technology pioneers Alexander Graham Bell and Guglielmo Marconi were instrumental in the invention of devices that could transmit sound wirelessly. Radio, which was deemed “wireless technology” in the beginning, was the main way of communication during the war. Morse code was used extensively as the new technology could not yet transmit voice.
Navies were pro-wireless technology, while armies were hesitant to jump on board, mainly due to the fact that this type of communication could be easily intercepted, it was heavy to lug around the necessary equipment, requiring 2-3 men to move, and could be unreliable.
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During the war, the Germans used wireless technology more heavily than others, supplying all their bases and cavalry units with the technology. Wireless communication became more important for the Germans due to the British blockade and the cutting of German underwater cables. Their investment allowed them to disseminate information wirelessly much earlier in the war.
The Allied forces were slower to adopt wireless technology, using telephones and visual signaling instead of diversifying their communications. They also continued to use pigeons and dogs as messengers, although many soldiers loved their dogs too much to put them in harm’s way. However, the Battle of the Somme forced the Allies’ hands, as the British telephone lines were destroyed and they suddenly needed to invest in wireless technology to communicate.
By the end of the war, wireless technology was used on both sides. It was part of military tactics during the war, as it allowed communication between ships. On the battlefield, it was now possible to speak with tanks and aircraft during an offensive, warning soldiers of incoming attacks and allowing them to take cover.
Scholars debate the impact or wireless technology on WWI. Some argue that the reluctance to adapt extended the war, as British military tactics could have been more advanced and possibly led to an earlier ending of hostilities. What is not debated, however, is that the war allowed for the proliferation of wireless technology and the world never went back. One could now communicate with populations in distant countries and manage battlefield operations from far afield. WWI laid the groundwork for the word we live in today.
Lallnilla, M. (2014, May 15). The science of World War I: Communications. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/45641-science-of-world-war-i-communications.html
Tworek, H. J.S. (2014, October 8). Wireless telegraphy. Retrieved from https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/wireless_telegraphy